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Army veteran who confronted the Colorado Springs shooter describes his experience

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The mass shooting at a queer nightclub in Colorado Springs might have been much worse had it not been for U.S. Army combat veteran Richard Fierro. As most people ran away from the gunman, he ran toward the shooter - who wore body armor and carried an AR-15-style rifle - disarmed and subdued him with the help of others. Mr. Fierro could not save everyone. His daughter's boyfriend was one of the five people killed. Two of his friends were shot and hospitalized. His wife and daughter also sustained injuries. But he saved lives. And Richard Fierro, who's now a civilian, joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And I'm really sorry that we're meeting under these circumstances.

RICHARD FIERRO: Oh, thank you. And, yeah, so am I.

SUMMERS: I can imagine that reliving the events of Saturday night might be difficult, but if you could tell us about that night at Club Q - who were you with and what brought you there?

FIERRO: So my daughter's best friend Wyatt, Potted Plant, was performing. And I had never seen him perform, so it was kind of cool. It was his birthday. And my daughter was so excited to have her boyfriend, me and her mom and her friends Chip (ph) and Joanne (ph). And we went to the club to have a good time - went from dinner to the club to watch the drag show. And then after it was finished, we - the girls wanted to dance, so the girls were dancing, and everybody in the club was dancing. They were doing their thing, and, you know, we were all hanging out and having a great time. And, you know, that was our intent. It's a safe space for everybody, right? And so we don't have any preference to who we're hanging out with, we just want to hang out with people that - with a good vibe. And that's what we did.

SUMMERS: A celebratory evening, a good vibe, as you say. What happened when the gunshots began? What happened there?

FIERRO: I kind of went into, you know, combat mode and just tried to stop somebody from hurting - and at that point, that whole group in that building was in my family. And I had to stop - I had to do something, right? And I didn't do everything I could. It's - five people right now don't have their family with them. And I - and the only reason I'm talking to people is 'cause I want those families to know that I care. I cared at the moment of crisis that - what their family member was going through. I just want them to know I - somebody cared, whether it was me or anyone else in that club doing something heroic. That's the people that are heroes. I'm just a - the dude that did what I was - you know, I was trained to do that. I do that because that's what I have to do. I protect my family.

SUMMERS: You described everybody who was at Club Q that night as your family that you were trying to protect. And, I mean, it's hard to know what any of us would do in a moment like that until faced with it. But I can imagine that not everyone could or would respond in the way that you did. Where did that come from?

FIERRO: Yeah. So in - when you go to multiple deployments as a soldier, you're tested under fire. And that's what the training's all about, for you to be tested under fire. Can you handle it? Woman, man, gay, straight - doesn't matter. We're all in there. At that moment, we're humans. We're being threatened, and we need to either be able to eliminate that threat or fail that test and not do that. I felt like I've been tested before. Doesn't mean I'm better than anyone. Doesn't mean that I, you know, can do extraordinary things. What it means is I knew that, physically, I respond that way. I will go towards the action and do what I can to help people. That's all I want to do.

SUMMERS: I understand that your daughter lost her high school sweetheart. Raymond Green Vance was among those killed that night. And first of all, I just want to say I'm so sorry for your family's loss. And could you tell us about him? What kind of person was he?

FIERRO: Raymond was a good man, young man, trying to figure out what he's going to do with his life, you know? Just like every other little kid. My daughter's in the same boat. They were in high school together. She loved Raymond. We loved Raymond. He spent holidays with us. I watched him play football. This is every American family. You have people that are introduced in. You have girlfriends, boyfriends of your children that you have to learn to, you know, accept and love. And we did. And Raymond was in our lives for six years. And his mom can talk to you. Raymond is the young man he was. I just know, for us, we loved him. He always took care of my daughter, and I trusted him with her. And that's not something easy for a person to say when it's their daughter.

SUMMERS: Yeah. I'm thinking of you and your friends' injuries, your family. How are you all doing right now?

FIERRO: We're hanging in there. My brother came down, and that helped me. And he's helping them. And, you know, we got to get Cassie up and down and in the wheelchair and roll her around. She's still got a broke leg, and we got to figure that out. And we're trying to visit our friends in the hospital still, Chip and Joanne. And people are amazing. A young lady came with a little bouquet of flowers from her garden, you know? That, to me, means more than anything else, you know? That's what it's about.

SUMMERS: At this point, law enforcement officials have not definitively stated any motive in the shooting. But attacks like this one, they don't happen in a vacuum. How are you thinking about what could have caused this?

FIERRO: I don't. Because evil is evil, right? I've seen evil downrange. I've seen evil here. Evil's evil. I'll be honest. Motive doesn't matter. This person tried to kill everyone in that club. That's evil. And to see evil is the worst thing in your life. That was what makes me mad, is that we shouldn't be that way. This country is plentiful. There's no way we should be like that.

SUMMERS: Over the last few years in the United States, there has been this onslaught of legislation and hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ people in the United States. I know that you've said that evil is evil, but do you see any link between that rhetoric, that legislation, and what happened in Colorado Springs on Saturday night?

FIERRO: So I'm not a political person. I'm a soldier. And even as an officer, you know, you were trained to never show your political point of view 'cause you're going to serve the commander in chief. I don't have a political point of view on that. I -you know, politics is politics. I don't care about that. What I do care about is that I go to war, all my comrades went to war with me, and we went to fight for the freedoms of the people in this nation. And those freedoms include loving who you want to love, being with who you want to be with, doing what you want to do, achieving your dreams and goals, whatever they may be. And that, to me, is what needs to be used for everybody; not a party, not a group, everybody.

SUMMERS: Can you tell us about what you've heard there from people in Colorado Springs as a community? How is everyone coping?

FIERRO: This is hard for everyone. This is not something that anybody wants to ever go through. Nobody wants to go through this. But I'm not the first and we'll probably not be the last. We just had Uvalde. I mean, this is ridiculous, you know? It's just not good.

SUMMERS: What do you and your family, what do you and your community, need right now as you seek to recover?

FIERRO: You know, thoughts and prayers are nice. I just - I answered this question earlier, and I said, listen; the little bouquet of flowers I got from a lady that I hadn't met and I lived next door to for 15 years - how about everybody this Thanksgiving, you know, find that hero around their table and do an action for somebody next to them. And I think that will resonate. You know, the people here - they're going to get supported. People are going to send them the things they need, and they should. But how about we just, you know, make a hero at the dinner table for Thanksgiving?

SUMMERS: Father, husband, co-owner of a craft brewery, defense contractor, U.S. Army veteran and the man who confronted a mass shooter in Colorado Springs - Richard Fierro. Thank you for talking to us. And we wish you and your family well.

FIERRO: Thank you. And I appreciate you taking the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.